Updated: Sep 17
Browsing rows of dusty shelves. Sun-faded VHS artwork. Huge cardboard displays. These were the things of video store utopia. Fast-forward to the present, however, and you'll have trouble finding a room full of physical media to loan. This article will detail former video joints in my town, but let's start by getting the only active one out of the way:
This store is my last local vestige of retail video greatness. It's this or the dreaded Redbox. What fun is that? UPDATE: This store is out of business as of September 2020.
I can remember when Family Video sprang up from the ground, circa 2001. Elmira's Pet Boutique was torn down to make way for it. The main thing I will always remember about that store was their permanent sign in the window, which read "Pet Burial Kits." No wonder they went out of business!
Believe it or not, there was quite a controversy when Family Video first came to town. The local paper ran a story, questioning whether it was a porn store. An unspecified number of Family Video locations have an unadvertised "back room," and I suspect that to be the case with ours.
This store opened up with more square footage, and about a third of the building was converted to a Jimmy John's. The sub shop was closed because it ended up being a front for drug trafficking. (That's not the only time you'll hear about drugs in this article.) You can see the empty storefront to the left of the photo below.
I once applied for a job at this location, and was given a written test that would be intimidating to NASA candidates. I specifically recall a question about determining barometric pressure. I believe this test was given specifically to people they didn't want to hire, especially because I heard of an employee through a friend who was asked "Do you like movies?" as his sole interview question. Lame. Still, I frequented this store out of principle until they insisted I had outstanding late fees and wouldn't let me rent anything until they were paid. Even though it was only a couple of bucks, those movies weren't late. Family Video is now more of a CBD store that happens to rent movies; they don't even advertise new releases anymore.
The following locations once housed epic collections of movies. I'm proud to say that I patronized almost all of them:
The Video Loft
There were two Video Loft locations. Their tagline was "Your Fourth Network," which quickly became dated. This location of the main store has left behind a testament to its former glory:
This Video Loft was cannibalized from the defunct fast-food chain, The Red Barn. Back in the '70s, my mom contracted food poisoning at a Red Barn location (not this one), and was in a coma for five days. The hospital told my dad that they weren't sure she was going to make it. Thankfully, she did. Back then, nobody sued.
I always wondered if The Video Loft took its name retroactively, due to the "barn" signage. They wouldn't have been the first business to do so: The first Pizza Hut store inherited a sign that read "Pizza," and had enough room for three more letters. I bet you didn't know that. Stick with me, kid.
Here's how the store was laid out: They took out the tables, and put in aisles of tapes. It could have been done overnight, and maybe it was. Even the counter where customers would have placed their orders was still there. It may have been the same cash register. Looking back, it was a weird setup, but nobody cared. This Video Loft location was closed by the late '90s. (All of the dates in this article are from memory and should not be taken as gospel.) I remember these guys having a great horror lineup. I once got paper cutout Thing from The Addams Family here.
Unfortunately, the building has since been demolished, and you can bet that whatever is eventually built there won't be nearly as awesome. (Unless it's an arcade, which is about as likely as another video store.)
The Video Loft, cont.
The storefront on the far left was the "other" Video Loft, located across town. This store was much smaller. There was a really creepy wooden shanty inside, bearing the sign "Adult Training Films," which presumably taught fiduciary responsibility. Incredibly, this location lasted until around 2013, when it became a mattress store, and now it's a hydroponics shop. I ended up buying a good chunk of Video Loft's collective inventory.
The Video Loft had at least one sister store called Video City, but I don't know where it was located. The tape is Parents, starring a pre-insane Randy Quaid. The "Fourth Network" branding is the giveaway:
The building with an identity crisis, Video Tech later became a veterinary clinic, and now it's a Dunkin' Donuts. There was another Video Tech location in a neighboring town.
I can still see the Super Mario Bros. 3 poster in the window which now sports a sandwich ad.
Of all the stores in this list, Video Tech is the most special to me. I vividly recall renting Mrs. Doubtfire there, after seeing it at a friend's house. I remember seeing their signage out front, thinking that Father's Day and What's Love Got To Do With It didn't display well together. My dad got me this Sonic the Hedgehog gum dispenser from the store. It still has candy in it, but I think I'll save it for later!
My friend Luke hooked me up with this Video Tech treasure, The Book of Pooh. Sometimes, the jokes write themselves! You can read Luke's review of Return of the Living Dead Part II here.
Most important to me however, is this Children of the Corn promotional balloon, another gift from my dad. In 1995, he was working as an ad executive with a radio station, and Video Tech was one of his clients. The store manager gave it to him for me, and it's been mine ever since. It's still filled with the carbon dioxide of an anonymous minimum wage employee. Seriously, this thing hasn't been inflated since the mid '90s. They don't make inflatable corn like they used to. I remember seeing this for the first time, as it sat in the back of my dad's red 1987 Daytona Pacifica:
The former owner of Video Tech found this article and contacted me! He sent me photos of the store, circa 1988. Super-cool guy.
These regional chain stores lived up to their name: Video King was your first destination for the latest releases. Upon entry, you would be greeted with the smell of hot, buttered popcorn. They never cared if you went back for refills. This was Video King's main location, known as Video King Superstore.
Video King used to run television ads, which would tout the hottest new tapes. I will never forget the jingle, etched into my psyche: "You've never seen anything like it [three rapid drum beats]... Video King!" And it was true. Upon setting my twelve-year old foot into the store for the first time, I was completely blown away.
In 1994, Video King ran an ad promising that, if they didn't have a copy of the newly-released Forrest Gump, they would give you a free rental of your choice. Of course, everyone and their mother went there, hoping that the store didn't have the film, in order to get their free rental. It was genius marketing, and my family was not exempt from the ploy. Maybe someone lucked out with a freebie, but with a wall full of nothing but Forrest Gump tapes, it wasn't us. We ended up renting the future Tom Hanks classic, and later that night, we learned why life was like a box of chocolates.
Here's a real piece of ephemera. This Video King receipt from 1995 shows my mom renting me Primal Rage for the Sega Genesis. I couldn't get enough pixelated bloodlust!
Before going under, the location's size was cut in half, and they dropped the "Superstore" moniker. After closing, the location became a gym, which never bothered to change the movie-themed wallpaper. The hot pink awning was left to rot. Being a couch potato, I have no idea when the gym closed.
I got this Mortal Kombat: The Animated Video poster from Video King. With its 1995 CGI, the movie has not aged well. Video King also gave me their displays for Titanic and Spice World. I saw Titanic in the theater. I've never watched Spice World: I didn't care about the movie, The Spice Girls were just hot!
The following photo is of Video King's other local location, converted into yet another gym. I bought VHS copies of Robocop and Slugs from this store. Much of Slugs was filmed ninety minutes away from me, in Lyons, NY. Check out our Slugs road trip, and Robocop review!
This is how Video King tapes were packaged to withstand abusive rides. The store did eventually make the transition to DVD; I rented The Green Mile from the Superstore in the format.
Built as a dedicated video store, Hollywood Video eventually encompassed a GameCrazy, located in the space which at&t now occupies. GameCrazy was a subsidiary company of Hollywood Video, and helped prolong a flailing industry. This store shared a parking lot with a small Blockbuster (is that a contradiction in terms?) inside a grocery store.
Thankfully, I still have my Hollywood Video card, should they reopen!
DVD Rental Store
Mentioned purely for the sake of completeness is this Metro PCS store, which once housed a DVD-exclusive rental location. This was a big deal in the early 2000s, but
the store didn't last long, maybe only a couple of months. If anything, they were probably too ahead of their time, as the DVD user base hadn't yet reached its peak. After the DVD store, a Mexican restaurant called Dos Amigos opened up at the location. This lasted about a year, and was closed due to reported drug trafficking. After that, the building was derelict for about ten years, until it was recently renovated. But at least we now have another cell phone store, located directly across the street from the aforementioned at&t!
I don't recall the name of the DVD store, hence the generic name in the heading (in case you hadn't figured that out).
Of course, no town was complete without its Blockbuster. For the past several years, our former Blockbuster location has played host to this:
I guess this isn't too bad. At least it's not a gym.
There's an unbelievable, unfinished pencil mural inside. John Cusack, in his iconic Say Anything scene, is relegated to holding up an incomplete boombox. It looks like he's holding a sign protesting the loss of the once-great chain. Or maybe that's just me.
These illustrations are simultaneously poetic and tragic. And it's not as though the effort was scrapped with the closing of the store: Even when Blockbuster was operational, shelves were placed in front of the drawings. I'm guessing either the artist died, or there was a "contractual dispute" (i.e.: Somebody got ticked off).
This store was a bit of a drive from where I live, so I seldom rented from it, but I did buy some video games from here.
I bought this tape years ago at the local Salvation Army store. It speaks of a mythical shop known as Video Shack. This address is now a Rite Aid parking lot, and if it weren't for my chance find, the place might have been lost to the ages. Unbelievably, I know the person who has their old phone number. If you look closely to the left of the sticker, you can see "VS" heat-gunned into the tape. No business intends to fail.
This seedy little store was located directly across the street from the town's illustrious porn shop, and was owned by the same guy. I remember at ten years old walking by Alleywood with my mom, when she had to buy office supplies at a neighboring store. Staring at me from the front window was a giant cardboard display of this nightmare fuel:
This is now one of my favorite films, but you'd better believe I couldn't watch the Child's Play series for over twenty years after seeing this image as an impressionable little punk. Here's proof I got over it:
I doubt Alleywood Video lasted past the mid '90s.
Little Joe's Tape Club
This TV repair shop had a video store in the back, run by the owner's son. The front of the building one had a yellow awning, the side of which bore an arrow pointing to the back stating "Tape Club Open." When I was about thirteen, my dad rented me The Mr. Bill Collection from here.
Here's the entrance to the former Tape Club, which always felt like a secret. The floor-space later became a pool hall called Outback Billiards. Now hosting a gym and a vacuum store, this building has run the gamut.
Video store and ice cream joint
I forget the name of this store, which went under in the early '90s. My family went here only a couple of times. You'd get your ice cream at the little window on the far left, which is actually in the middle of the building. I remember being terrified here, looking at the cover of Horror Express. Hey, I was about ten.
Convenience store with a video section
This store, now a Subway, is where I was first intrigued with Larry Cohen's The Stuff.
Elmira Home Theater
Directly across the street from Subway was the only video store in town which rented Sega Master System games. I remember seeing a countertop promo for Fred Savage's The Wizard here. It's now a beverage store.
This article covered my town, and a couple neighboring ones. There were other video stores in driving distance, but I would have to cross a state line. For the purposes of this feature, I didn't think that counted as "local." Plus, being on parole, I can't chance of an out-of-state accident. (Just kidding.)
Thanks for rewinding with me. What were your favorite video haunts? Share them in the comment box below!